View Full Version : Selfless Masters vs. Paid Instructors

02-14-2001, 09:30 PM
I just read the latest Tai Chi magazine and an article on Wu/Hao style had me thinking something to write this post. In the article the author explains that when he was in china he was low on funds, but the wu/hao Tai chi masters still taught him and wanted him to train as much as possible without pay and invited the author to stay at their homes at no cost.

Have you ever experienced anything like this?

well i have 2 teachers that are selfless and have great experience and skills in taiji. They both wont accept money from me and always treat me to tea and food and always give worthy lessons, even just as deep as the ones from renowned taiji teachers that go on tour and have expensive tai chi seminars.

do you think that free lessons are valued as much as expensive seminars?

sometimes i think it necessary to visit these traveling masters, but the local ones that train in the home are worth more to me and the lessons provided.

02-14-2001, 09:58 PM
Thats great if your communist, but in a capitolist society you can only afford to do that if your rich. Contrary to what people think teaching kung fu is hard work. It frustrating at times and takes lots of patience, planning and time. Time that could be spent making consistant money at a part time job. I took a pay cut to start teaching kung fu. I guess I'm selfless, but at the same time I have bills. I have food and books to pay for. This idea of the noble Mr. Miyagi is pretty much fantasy, because back in the day when teachers taught for free, students were slaves that chopped wood and did grunt work.
Why is it that people pay $25 a session to learn African drumming, kayaking or tennis, yet feel ripped off for paying for martial arts. These same people willingly pay even more for health club fees to health clubs they rarely go too. Being a Sifu is very hard and frankly I think martial arts teachers are underpaid. Calculate all the money you've spent for training....Now ask yourself if you would trade it all in and have no skills....would you do it? I sure as hell wouldn't. If I had known ahead of time what treasures there were ahead of me I would have paid tripple the price financially. Also paying means that a student is serious. In my experience students that pay nothing, feel no obligation and will leave without notice if the training gets hard. Spare me the case examples. I am a professional and have talked with other martial arts professionals that have experienced the same thing over the years.

fiercest tiger
02-14-2001, 10:25 PM
**** straight brother, i decided that if i was going to be a fulltime teacher or just a part time teacher.

i was lucky enough to go fulltime, i sacraficed my job and open up a full time kwoon with only 4 students at that time. i didnt know if i would be closed down in 6 months or a year. ive been fulltime for almost 2 years now.

kung fu teaching is very frustrating and very under paid. we give our attantion 100% to almost every student and help them with everything from outside the kwoon problems to health problems and , family, all sorts. we dont have to but thats what sifus do, well i help as much as i can.

my sifu hardly asked for money, i mean almost never. but i did do lots of other things for him, plus produce students for lion and dragon dancing etc. doing chores and helping him at the daoist temple we were conected to. but he made his money from dit dar medicine he was the one of the best healers in china town.

if i won lotto i would teach for free!




Boulder Student
02-15-2001, 02:15 AM
If you are paying for your teachers time, I see no problem in that. If you are paying for the art, I think your teacher probably shouldn't be teaching it.

What's the difference? If I am paying for the art, the assumption is that if I pay and show up I will become a "black belt or a master." If I go to a seminar, I will learn Yang Tai Chi. These are the schools where all of the instruction is handle by assistants. Horse Hockey.

If you are paying for your teachers time, there is no assumption that your teacher will successfully teach the art to you. You have simply determined that that the time you spend studying with your teacher has value. Some teachers will determine that your effort is their payment. Some will want $30 a month. Some will want a $100 an hour. Some will want $8 a class.

If the teacher is worth $80 a month, pay it. If they want time and effort for instruction, pay it.

One must toughen up without losing one's tenderness.

02-15-2001, 04:48 AM
Coming from a Japanese background there was NEVER any pretense about paying for your training. OF COURSE YOU DID!.

Of course, Chinese arts are a little different. I learned Tai Chi for 3 years for an up-front payment of 300.00. I have never payed for my Ba Gua instruction. I paid 50.00 a month for Hsing I. I also have a friend who teaches Lo Han for free. Of course, the blood and sweat don't feel too "free."

Last October some of my fellow students and I went to visit Col. YW Chang in New Orleans. Complete strangers, he welcomed us into his home for the weekend and we were asked to "give whatever we felt the experience was worth." This man is by far the best kung fu practitioner I have ever met, and the kindest human being. His students were wonderfully open and kind to us.

I feel americans reduce too much to "brass tacks," and we lose out on the relationship between student and teacher. My Tai Chi teacher was like a grandfather to me and I did yardwork for him and spent a lot of time sitting and talking in his store. My Ba Gua Sifu is a great friend to me, and my Hsing I sifu and I talk regularly though he has moved to San Diego. Kung Fu is only worth what you put into it. If you put in effort you will gain result. Morew expensive does not mean better however. As always, buyer beware.

02-15-2001, 06:04 AM
Selflessness is granted only when the student himself is selfless.

In truth, NOTHING in life is free.

One must GIVE in order to receive.

02-15-2001, 06:36 PM
so basically the guy in the article was in a communist country where the taiji person was probably paid by the state, but i think that the instructor was a factory worker as well. though the taiji master in the article and the taiji masters friends of mine dont have schools. they are more relaxed and dont have to worry about running a school, having to be at the school at certain times, and all the overhead, as well as where the next meal is gonna come from. they struggle in life with full time jobs.

so i suppose its difficult to say, looks like some people get something out of both. i agree, i have spent my fair share on trips,seminars, lessons, school tuitions, even kung fu sash tests, but nothing compares to instructors that are good friends and dont pressure/expect money and very hospitable inside or outside the school, gym, home whatever.

When you have a school then tuiton is understandable to pay, nothing wrong with that, thats common sense, its when the art is being sold and thats the only way to attain it is not right.

02-15-2001, 06:44 PM
The difference between "Selfless Masters and Paid Instructors" is exactly what 8step has said. The key word is "Professional".

A Professional by definition has made teaching kung fu his life's bread and butter. He does not always have the opportunity to pick his students.

Conversely, a teacher who does not seek to make his kung fu pay the bills can proceed as he wishes.

Is one more valid than the other? The answer lies in your own training. My best friend studies at a big local school. To him, it is not important who was the master's mother's brother's sifu. He trains hard. His kung fu is strong. I study alone. It is important to me that I learn everything about my art, history included. My kung fu is OK. ;)

We both love our situations, and envy a little of each other's.

However, I do have trouble being objective, since my training falls in the former category. Because of mindset, most people here and yes, now in China, will never meet a true master, let alone study with one. I see it every day. No one thinks of spending TIME to learn, they only think of spending MONEY to learn. "How much do you charge?" is the first (and last!) question. My master simply smiles.

Many here do not share as deeply the relationship values of respect, loyalty, selflessness and honor that come from a selfless, undistracted, previously cash-poor society. This is not to say that a student cannot go to a school, pay monthly, train hard, and learn good kung fu from a great master. IMHO, nuances between teacher and student may be lost when an art is transferred with such tender so easily acquired.

A big part of carrying on an art to the next generation, like a child, involves deep commitment and responsibility. Traditionally, there was a tangible barter relationship between teacher and student. A man's gotta eat. The other side of the coin was how much the student gave of himself. I believe the teachers who speak out here must be of this kind. I hope it is the case.

We should feel lucky, not constrained, to be in so rich a society. Think how many masters are out there who are making a living with businesses, yet have good kung fu! Like anyone with a life's passion, they DO want to share it. All you must do is love it as much as they do. Maybe that's the hard part.

"Waiting is bad." - Musashi

Al S.
02-15-2001, 07:03 PM
Great thread of discussion here!

Thought you guys might be interested in this article that I found on another web site. It fits in a bit with what everyone has been saying, coming from the teacher's perspective. It talks about the differences between "customers" and "students".

I've given copies of this articles out in my classes, and it's interesting to watch reactions. Some of my "customers" have been really offended by it.

On Becoming a Student by Pai, Gong Li (http://www.dragonmoon.org/article2.html)


Al S.
CloudWater Tai Chi (http://www.cloudwater.com)

02-15-2001, 07:39 PM
Great topic.

I think that a person who has devoted his life to a profession has a right to be paid for his services. I think a student has an obligation to help support his teacher for sharing his knowledge. However, when a master accepts a disciple, it is the master who offers the tea. I've haven't read the article above, so I don't know why "paying customers" would get offended. But, usually people are offended when I say that buying real teaching is like "buying love." If you think you've gotten something real because you've merely "paid" for it, you're probably fooling yourself. That's why most agree that true teaching stays in the "family." How much did Dong Hai Chuan charge? Ask YZD what his father charged him. Does anyone think the paying customer got more?


02-15-2001, 07:48 PM
Another thing to keep in mind, is that people value what they pay for. Give someone something for free, and they'll value it less.

Best Regards,

Rick Matz

Discipline is remembering what you want.

02-16-2001, 04:50 PM
When I was studying with my teacher, sometimes I didn't have any money. The why is not important but my teacher's response was it doesn't matter. He felt that I was being honest with him and that was good enough for him. He taught me! The point being we all have to be flexible at all times.
In the many years since then, I have adapted a give and take reflex to all things. If one is going to be involved with people, one has to be flexible. Money is like water it comes and goes but people are like trees they stand a long time.

02-18-2001, 11:22 PM
Its not about the money. It's about the sacrifice. Sifu gives up time and energy and imparts knowledge. Student gives up a little bit of money and (hopefully) more than a little bit of time. But it is the exchange that is important. I think the sign of a good sifu is when the exchange doesn't have to involve money. If you are short or broke, something can be worked out, ie; work at the kwoon, chores, etc...The important thing is that you are reciprocating his efforts. I wouldn't want to take lessons without some way of payment. And just like I would expect from him, if Sifu was in financial trouble, I would bust my ass to help....

02-19-2001, 01:03 AM
I agree with Boulder Student, my students pay for my time, what they get out of the art is entirely up to them. However, I teach because I want to help people learn this beautiful art (Taiji) and reap the benefits I have discovered.

I agree wholeheartedly with Pai's article (thanks for sharing that, Al S.) linked above on students vs. customers. And what RickMatz said about people valueing what they pay for is very true.

When I started out I had one student, my best friend since Jr. High School (Sifu Bear), and I taught him for free. I had just left my own sifu and was hesitant to become one. But he really wanted to learn, and I knew the system would benefit him greatly. After a few months he asked me if he could bring a friend, and I said "no problem." I didn't charge him either. As they progressed there was some discussion about opening a school. I was hesistant, but thought of my sifu, and how much he helped me, and decided to give it a shot. I knew I wouldn't be able to quit my day job, or get into a studio right away, but we had an empty garage available. I went by word of mouth (still do) to promote my course, and had one or two takers. I still didn't charge for my courses, but I couldn't get a single student to stick for more than a couple of lessons. I soul searched, questioned my teaching technique, the art, etc. The conclusion I came to was that some people are just flakes (students vs customers). I finally picked up someone who wanted to learn and was willing to stick with it, and he became my biggest promoter, trying to get as many friends as possible to come to class.

However, my teaching for free days had come to an end. The electricity bill for our garage-guan was breaking my friend who owned it; I now lived 40 miles away from the place and had to consider fuel costs; and I realized at the time people value what they pay for (customers rather than students).

Charging people, and accepting anyone pays the bills/rent, and gives all my students a comfortable place to train. I live in the Rockies, so it's cold, snowy, and wet here in the winter. My students appreciate a place to work out. But any such place costs money. If not to rent it, then to maintain it. That money can't come from my day job, which supports my family and puts food on the table.

My customers come and go, while my regular students pay me their monetary fees faithfully every month. But if they ever couldn't pay, I would continue teaching them anyway. However, that is a consideration which must be earned first.

Without going outside, you may know the whole world.
Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
The ****her you go, the less you know.
--Lao Tsu

02-19-2001, 05:12 AM
Any schools survival depends upon student enrollment and each & every students' contribution as whole. If a MA school is going to stay "alive" students need to realize how important it is to support the school by paying their monthly fees on time, ordering equipment and such directly through their teachers and not elsewhere, etc. I see a teacher taking their own time to be there each and everyday of class to teach. Students in return should make the effort to support the school so that you are paying your own teacher for their time that they committ to teaching. Now if my teacher was "rich" which even though his annual income is up there, is not "rich." I know he would teach for free. My Sifu, spends a lot of "private" time with every most of our students. Your not just paying a monthly fee for your teacher. Your supporting your school just as well. It's two sides of the same coin. JMO-